Charlotte, my 18-year-old daughter is a good traveler, but I’ve learned over the years that compromise is key for a good trip, balancing culture with downtime. Charlotte’s game for a tourist site or two in the morning, if she can work on her tan in the afternoon. A museum for an hour or so, followed by meandering around neighborhoods exploring and most definitely shopping. The best shopping is usually in the hipper and up and coming areas of a city - a plus! I’d been to Barcelona and had always wanted to bring my kids. It’s hard, even for a passé teen, not to be in awe of Gaudi’s Modernist architecture that wouldn’t look all that out of place in Disney, save the religious references. Wide tree lined boulevards, lively medieval streets, and a revitalized Beachfront make for a perfect combination. After joining friends in Paris for a few days we continued on to Barcelona for a mix of sights and relaxation. So here goes-- two teens, two moms, and a long weekend in Barcelona.
Go back to Mt. Monthuic during the day to visit the intimate Joan Miro Foundation. Even if you’re not a Miro fan it’s an intriguing glimpse of the artist’s work and life. The compelling series of white buildings high up on Montjuic was designed by Spanish architect Josep Lluis Sert, a good friend of Miro’s. There is also a gallery devoted to the work of young contemporary artists.
Speaking of contemporary art, Macba is Barcelona’s modern art museum designed by Richard Meier in the Raval neighborhood. (Close to the Barrio Gothic)
Hottest ticket—You can’t eat at El Bulli anymore, but you can still savor Ferran Adria’s food at Tickets, that is if you’re lucky enough to get a reservation. They also own a cocktail bar around the corner, 41 Grados, for sophisticated tapas. Also on my list for next time-- Comerc 24, Alkimia, Gresca, Bar Mut, Ajoblanco and Petite Comite.
How about a wine tasting? For the largest selection of wine in Barcelona visit Vila Viniteca in the Born neighborhood. Don't miss their wonderful gourmet grocery right next door! Look online or call ahead and see if they are having any tastings while you're in town.
If you have more time there are many great day trips from Barcelona. Take the train to see the Monastery at Montserrat, the charming beach town of Sitges, or wander Girona where after enjoying the Moorish and Roman architecture you can dine at one of Spain’s most famous restaurants—El Celler de Can Roca.
Stay: This was a hard one, Barcelona has many great hotels, and I spent a lot of time considering the options--ending up vacillating between The W and the Arts. Both hotels are on the beach and some say a bit far away, but it’s only a ten-minute cab ride to the center of Barcelona--worth it to be at the beach. (The W is 5 minutes further down from the Arts) I had enjoyed a previous stay at the Arts, but with 2 teenagers in tow The W turned out to be the right choice. The sail shaped skyscraper is buzzing; the W just exudes energy. (The Arts is a different vibe--Quieter, elegant, better service). The W pool is beautiful overlooking the water with comfortable beds and music pumping, but you can escape to a quieter chair at the beach if you prefer. Request a high floor room: you’ll feel like you’re on a ship at sea.
Other Options: In the cooler months when the appeal of the beach is not a factor, I’d stay at the luxurious Mandarin Oriental, which is centrally located on upscale Passeig de Gracia. The beautiful interiors are by hot Spanish designer Patricia Urquiola. The hotel has a fabulous roof terrace with a small pool that has fantastic views of Barcelona. (Private to hotel guests till 7 pm.) A great boutique hotel option is The Ohla, neoclassical on the outside, coolly minimal on the inside. Their rooftop terrace is perfect for early evening cocktails, also with killer views over Barcelona. You can’t miss the Ohla, artist Frederic Amat’s ceramic “eyes” decorate the outside of the building, surreal, quirky and hard to resist. The Soho House is located right near La Rambla. The property is beautifully designed and has many amenities including a fabulous gym and beauty salon. Don't miss drinks on the roof!
Friday Check In: We arrived starving after our morning flight from Paris, threw our bags in our room, and headed down to Pez Vela for lunch. On the seaside promenade, just below the W, are a few restaurants and cafes fully open to the beach. Right away-- deep exhale--you feel like you’re on vacation. Paz Vela has a great beach vibe and cool décor. After paella and a pitcher or two of sangria, everyone was happy.
Sea Side Stroll: The beachfront, cleaned up and redeveloped for the 1992 Olympics, now boasts 3 miles of sandy beach that has become a large part of the daily pulse of life in Barcelona. The promenade is fun; you can’t help but enjoy yourself! What struck me most was how vibrant it was; not fancy or posh, just a mix of people from all walks of life enjoying the sea. Have a drink in one of the chiringuitos (Barcelona’s beach bars), rent rollerblades, bikes, or go for a swim. Come early evening there were couples dancing in the square, the last paddle boarders still not ready to call it a day, and the sandcastle artists busy with their creations that wont be finished till you stroll back after dinner. (These guys are good!) Barceloneta beach is where the most action is. Walk down the promenade, then in and out of the side streets of Barceloneta.
Afternoon Eat & Chill: We enjoyed our afternoon lunch at Bar Canete. Be sure to get a seat at the bar with a view of the kitchen. The tapas dishes were excellent, particularly the seafood offerings. Afterwards, sit by the pool or grab a chair on the beach and relax and recharge for the evening.
Night Tour: I thought about organizing a walking tour of the city, but didn’t quite feel like rolled eyes, constant sly phone checking and the dreaded question: how much longer? Brightside is not your standard tour, but a nighttime ride on a motorbike and sidecar--when was the last time you did that? It’s a great way to get an overview of the city and to see Barcelona all lit up in its nighttime glory. Peter and Joao picked us up outside the W and once we put on our helmets we were off, Charlotte in the sidecar and me on the back of the motorcycle. (Our friends were on another bike) Now, I’m a wimp, and in no way was the tour ever scary or dangerous. We headed past the old port, whizzed by the Columbus monument, the Sagrada Familia, then headed up to Mt Montjuic. We saw the Olympic stadium, Miro museum and Castell de Montjuic. We got off our bikes at the The National Palace at Montjuïc Hill for great views and photo ops of the Plaza Espanya just as the magic fountain below was changing colors. We were lucky---late afternoon clouds made for an unbelievable sunset, and with the fountains colors and sky all ablaze, it was indeed magical! We had arranged for them to drop us off at the end of the tour at our dinner reservation so it couldn’t have been easier. Both guides were personable, full of information and spoke perfect English. The kids loved it, and surprisingly so did I.
Dinner: There are so many great restaurants, but with the girls some of the finer dining choices were off the list. Set menus and innovative cuisine don’t work so well when you’re traveling with less adventurous eaters. We were looking for something fun with good food and Boca Grande was perfect--delicious seafood in a beautifully decorated room. The red prawns were the sweetest I’ve ever had. The upstairs bar, Boca Chica, is a popular spot for an after dinner drink.
Late Night: As a guest of the W you can skip the line to the Eclipse Bar on the 26th floor that’s quite a hot spot and offers incredible views.
Day Two: Saturday
Morning Run: The W has a large well-equipped gym overlooking the water (also a nice Bliss spa) but as the weather was beautiful I choose to go for a run on the beach while everyone else was still sleeping. It’s nice to watch a city wake up. I stopped at la Guingueta, the ultimate chic beach shack, for a fresh juice. (Also a good spot for lunch, always packed, right on the beach.) If your more ambitious than me you can try Pukas surf school for morning Pilates classes on stand up paddleboards.
Breakfast at the Market: I love food markets, and Boqueria on Las Ramblas has to be one of my favorites! It is also one of the worlds most famous markets, popular with locals and tourists alike, so it gets very crowded. Go early to enjoy your experience. Grab a stool at the counter of El Quim-- order a café and their delicious tortilla, then wander the market. The girls loved the smoothies and fresh fruit. I can’t leave a market empty handed—so saffron and smoked black sea salts from Ibiza were headed to New York.
Wander: In the old Gothic quarter, you’ll get lost in the labyrinth of small streets, but that’s half the fun! Many streets open up to larger squares, don’t miss the Placa Reial. (Especially lively at night) The Picasso Museum is worth a stop with a large collection of his earlier works. Shop for espadrilles at La Manual Alpargatera, the selection is vast--it’s hard work choosing what color and style you want! From the Barri Gotic you’ll run right into El Born, also a maze of narrow winding streets, filled with indie cafes and shops. This is the home of many local designers, and you’ll find many stores worth browsing. (The high end shopping is on Passeig de Gracia, but you can shop those stores at home.)
Lunch: We all loved Cal Pep in El Born! Share a few dishes of the day; the menu depends on what is freshest in the market. I’m a big fan of chipirones (baby squid)--if they’re on the menu, don’t hesitate!
Gaudi for dessert: Walk or jump in a cab and head to La Pedrera, built by Antoni Gaudi and one of his most important works. Also known as Casa Mila, this once apartment building is famous for it’s rooftop with unusual chimneys and parapets. If you still have energy nearby is Casa Batilo, another of Gaudi’s masterpieces. At the least go and admire the outside. Both buildings are open late and offer nighttime tours depending on the day.
Worth a look: At first when we saw The Palau de La Musica we thought it was another Gaudi building, the facade was so incredible. This stunning old place, now a music hall is a fine example of Catalan art nouveau style. Take a guided tour or just walk in the lobby and admire all the details. It would be very special to see a performance here.
Relax: Back to the beach to enjoy the late afternoon sun.
Dinner: We jumped into one of the bike taxis on the promenade to take us down to Arola at the Arts. (We walked back, about 15 min. The restaurant was very relaxed for fine dining, good for the girls. Chef Sergi Arola’s modern tapas made for a fun and delicious meal, it’s fun to sample many different dishes. The lobster and creamy rice casserole was a big hit. If you want something more casual at the beach, try Can Majo. Sit on the terrace with great views of the sea watching the people promenade by while eating delicious seafood.
Day Three: Sunday
Cafe: Right under the W grab a quick café and some pan tomato—the typical Catalan toast at Segafredo. It’s extra good with jamon on top to tide you over till lunch.
Awe Inspiring: You cannot leave Barcelona without visiting La Sagrada Famila, Antoni Gaudi’s masterpiece. This Roman Catholic Church is still a work in progress—it’s expected to be completed in 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death. When we arrived the line was snaked around the block, so get timed tickets ahead of time, either online or have the concierge do it for you. We would have waited hours, but instead went right in. (Purchase a ticket that includes a tower visit.). The Sagrada Familia is truly incredible, a full frontal attack on all your senses. The light streaming in the cathedral through the stained glass windows hits you first, followed by the columns reaching to the roof designed to resemble trees and branches. Everything is rich, abstract and colorful with all the details adding to the heavenly effect. This is one of my favorite tourist sites in all my travels. You will never look at another church in the same way again.
Brunch: Take a quick cab ride to L’eggs for lunch/brunch serving creative eggs dishes by 5 starred Michelin Chef Paco Perez. This is not your corner diner back home, the menu has more than just eggs but they are the star ingredient at play.
Afternoon: Continue the psychedelic tour by visiting Parc Guell, another Gaudi extravaganza not to be missed! As one of Barcelona’s most visited sites, it’s also a good idea to get a timed ticket ahead of time. Located in the upper part of Barcelona this fanciful park has wonderful vistas of the city below. Gaudi’s imaginative use of colorful mosaics create one of the most intriguing parks in the world, never did broken tile look so good! Plan on spending some time here to explore, visit the gardens, and stop in the Gaudi Museum located in his former residence.
Dinner: Barceloneta is a busy seaside restaurant at Port Vell. It was packed, our waiter was amusing and the seafood was amazing. Many restaurants are closed on Sundays so this is a good choice.